Bonds Trial Update: The Brothers Giambi

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Yesterday’s installment of the Barry Bonds trial didn’t provide the salacious highs of Monday’s Kimberly Bell testimony, but it made up for it with a varied menu of witnesses.  Most notably Jason and Jeremy Giambi, but let’s take this all in order, shall we?

First up was a man named Barry Sample, an expert in drug testing. Which involves … giving samples. Hmm. Maybe someone is putting us on here, because that name is too on-the-nose.  His testimony sounded legit, however. He explained why it’s so hard to use a Whizzinator and stuff like that.  For the record, he also testified that Bonds’ 2003 sample — which was part of baseball’s pilot drug testing program — came up negative for drugs at first, though a second test of the sample came back positive. Anyone feel better about the veracity of the leaked name from that famous list yet?

Next up was a man named Dale Kennedy, who is in the business of collecting urine samples from Major League Baseball players. I bet he’s great at parties. His testimony seemed pretty irrelevant. He wasn’t even cross-examined.

After Kennedy’s testimony came the hubub about whether Kimberly Bell changed her testicle testimony since 2003. I discussed this in detail yesterday. Upshot: this could be a bad thing for the prosecution.  If the jury is instructed to ignore her testimony about Barry’s berries, her credibility may be irreparably damaged and if that happens, the only person who has testified that Bonds knew he had taken steroids prior to his grand jury testimony may be discredited.  For now the judge is taking no action on the matter. If that doesn’t change, no harm, no foul for the prosecution.

The most interesting testimony of the day came from former Giants trainer and current Dodgers trainer Stan Conte. Conte is one of the most respected trainers in the game, but he was thrust into steroids-in-baseball fame when the Mitchell Report came out. There we learned how Brian Sabean was content to throw him under the bus when it came to Barry Bonds and Greg Anderson.

Specifically, in 2000, Conte went to Sabean to complain about known drug dealers like Greg Anderson hanging out in the locker room. Conte asked Sabean if it were OK to kick Greg Anderson out of the locker room. Sabean didn’t object. But then Conte, no idiot, asked Sabean if he’d have Conte’s back if Barry Bonds got angry about it and tried to have him fired. According to the Mitchell Report — and revisited in Conte’s testimony yesterday — Sabean told Conte that he was on his own if that happened. You don’t have to be genius to see that Sabean’s baloney in this regard set up Conte as a potential scapegoat in the event someone ever raised a ruckus about the Giants’ tolerance of Anderson, Bonds and steroids (“I told the trainer to do what was necessary. If he didn’t . . . “).  It certainly makes Conte a sympathetic figure and bolsters his integrity when it comes to steroids in baseball.

Beyond that, Conte’s testimony focused on his disapproval of steroids, Bonds’ unique training regimen and how, over time, he and Bonds had a falling out over Bonds’ training and rehab.  It seemed like the prosecution wanted to use this friction as a means of showing that Bonds was a rogue and to imply that Bonds had something to hide from his trainer. The defense, in contrast, seemed to be arguing that Conte’s personal tiff with Bonds makes him a biased witness. Indeed, the defense seems to be doing that with everyone.  Personally, it doesn’t sound like either side can claim the Conte testimony as a big win. It was factual and straightforward, but there was no mention of Conte being aware of Bonds’ steroids use, let alone Bonds admitting that he was aware of it, and thus I can’t see how the jury can use it to reach any conclusions about whether Bonds lied under oath.

Finally came a trio of ballplayers: Jason Giambi, Jeremy Giambi and Marvin Bernard. All three of them testified to receiving steroids from Greg Anderson (though all also testified that they had been taking steroids before meeting Anderson too).  All of them testified that they more or less knew that what they were receiving was steroids or at least steroids-like substances that were designed to be undetectable performance enhancing drugs such as The Cream and the Clear.  None of them testified about Barry Bonds at all.

The point of the player testimony: to show the jury a pattern of ballplayers knowingly receiving steroids from Greg Anderson and hoping that they conclude that Barry Bonds had to have known too.  This could be effective if the ballplayers themselves came across as having a clear idea of what they were taking.  Based on secondhand accounts of the testimony this was hit-and-miss yesterday, with the Giambis and Bernard voicing varying degrees of certainty about it all, what the drugs were intended to do, and whether they felt the drugs actually, you know, worked.

It strikes me that the player testimony could provide corroborating and/or supporting evidence if the jury is inclined to believe that Bonds lied, but it’s hard to see how it provides anything close to a smoking gun.  And it’s a smoking gun that the prosecution has been unable to come up with so far.

Rival Executives Expect Justin Verlander To Hit The Trading Block

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About a month ago, a report circulated that if the Detroit Tigers weren’t above .500 by the end of June, they were going to chuck the season, look to trade off veterans and rebuild. It’s now June 29 and the Tigers are 34-42 and sit six games out of first place.

As such, we should not be too terribly surprised to see a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo that multiple baseball executives expect Tigers ace Justin Verlander to hit the trade market sometime in the next two weeks. Passan notes that the Tigers haven’t formally offered him and that he’s just passing along speculation from rivals, but it’s pretty astute speculation.

The question is what the Tigers can get for Verlander. On the one hand, yes, Verlander is Verlander and has been one of the top starters in baseball for a decade. While he had struggled for a bit, last year featured a return to Cy Young form. He still has a blazing fastball and there is no reason to think he could not anchor the staff of a playoff caliber team.

On the other hand, as Passan notes, his 2017 has been . . . not so good. He looks amazing at times and very hittable at other times. Overall his walk rate is way up and his strikeout rate is down. There doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with him — various ailments contributed to his 2014-15 swoon — so it’s possible he’s just had a rough couple of months. Like I said, Verlander is Verlander, and it may not be a bad gamble to expect him to run off a string of dominant starts like he has so many times in the past.

The problem, though, is that anyone acquiring Verlander is not just gambling on a handful of starts down the stretch. They’re gambling on the $56 million he’s owed between 2018 and 2019 and the $22 million extra he’ll be guaranteed for 2020 if he finishes in the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019. Those would be his age 35, 36 and 37 seasons. There are certainly worse gambles in baseball, but it’s a gamble all the same.

If the Tigers don’t find any gamblers out there on the market, they’re going to have to make a gamble of their own: let Verlander go and get relatively little in return if another club picks up that $56 million commitment or eat it themselves and get prospects back in return to help kickstart a rebuild. Personally I’d go with the latter option, but I don’t work for the Illitch family.

 

There is a Tyler glut in baseball

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It’s a slow news morning — Miguel Montero is gone and everyone else is quiet — so you should go read Tyler Kepner’s latest column over at the New York Times. It’s, appropriately, about Tylers.

There are a lot of them in baseball now, Tyler notes. No Larrys and hardly any Eddies or Bobs. This obviously tracks the prevalence of the name Tyler in the population at large and the declines in Larrys, Eddies and Bobs. It’s the kind of thing I imagine we’ve all noticed from time to time, and it’s fun to do it in baseball. For his part, Kepner tries to make an all-Tyler All-Star team. The results are sort of sad.

There are always one or two Craigs floating around baseball from time to time, but not many more than that. We got a Hall of Famer recently, so that’s pretty nice. There will likely be fewer over time, as Craig — never even a top-30 name in popularity — is now near historic lows. I’m not complaining, though. I never once had to go by “Craig C.” in class to differentiate myself from other Craigs. Our biggest problem is being called Greg. We tend to let it pass. Craigs are used to it by now.